Reading time minutes

What is workflow automation?

From streamlining HR document management to modernizing AP processes — workflow automation increases speed, accuracy and visibility enterprise-wide.

Two coworkers sitting on a couch, looking at a laptop

The role of workflow automation 

Workflow automation defines a series of tasks based on a process and automatically acts on those tasks without the need for human intervention. Organizations implement workflow automation as a solution to repetitive work like data entry, invoice approval or task assignment, that bogs down employees.

Workflow automation vs. RPA

Workflow automation automates the flow of documentation and other activities within a process.  

Robotic process automation (RPA), however, uses software bots to carry out repetitive tasks based on defined, rules-based processes to automate entire workflows from beginning to end. RPA mimics the mouse movements and interactions that human users would carry out in a workflow — allowing for greater speed and accuracy to reach the successful completion of a workflow.

Workflow automation and RPA work best together through a content services provider that combines both intelligent automation technologies. From here, workflow tasks like employee onboarding, invoice processing and information sharing are done rapidly, in a fraction of the time it would take manual processes to complete the same task.

Benefits of workflow automation

Workflow automation enables tasks like employee onboarding, invoice processing and information sharing to be done in a fraction of the time compared to manual processes.

The benefits of workflow automation lie in its ability to streamline processes and improve efficiency. It also allows you to:

Creates a clear workflow and process

Avoid confusion among team members with full visibility into the process. This clarity eliminates the need for back-and-forth communication to check on status updates and results in a more efficient workflow.

The relevant person at each stage of the workflow will be automatically notified with the necessary documents, eliminating the risk of missed or delayed tasks. All knowledge workers can spend more time on strategic planning and problem-solving; and less on micromanaging.

Employees can work collaboratively instead of in isolation on mundane and routine tasks, creating higher value for their organization. Plus, when employees feel more fulfilled at work, it increases job satisfaction and retention.

Centralize and automate information management

An automated workflow integrates with your existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and other platforms, so employees can access relevant information from one location.

Workflow automation also eliminates bottlenecks and redundancies in work processes by routing documents to the right people and streamlining approvals.

Improve security and compliance

Modern workflow automation enables tracking of actions and activity throughout the process. By enforcing consistent business practices as part of the workflow, process variance and associated risks can be reduced.

Use cases of workflow automation in organizations

Automated workflows range in complexity. They can range from simple requests and approvals to multiple pre-built rules and triggers that manage robust decision-making. Here’s how workflow automation works in the day-to-day operations of:

  • Accounts payable: Capturing, reviewing and approving invoices, and processing payments
  • Human resources: Onboarding new employees, reviewing job applications, responding to job applicants and generating HR documents
  • Sales: Building lists, generating reports and following up through email
  • IT: Assigning tickets and tasks to team members, managing IT assets and controlling access

Learn more | What is Hyperautomation?

How to implement workflow automation

The blueprint to efficient automated workflows starts with an organization’s capability to recognize productivity gaps and outlining the unique processes it takes to get there.

The five fundamental workflow automation procedures are:

  • Identify tasks that can be automated. These are straightforward conditions that are triggered by certain scenarios; repetitive and predictable actions; and steps that hold up the process if not actioned on.
  • Define the outcomes of automation. What problems are you trying to solve by automating workflow? Set quantifiable goals, like decreased turnaround time or cost savings, that you can measure for performance.
  • Instill change management. Get your team on board by clearly articulating the benefits of workflow automation and encouraging stakeholders to get involved in process improvements and provide feedback.
  • Implement workflow automation software. Choose a solution that fits your business needs and can be scaled for expansion to other processes and departments. You also want to consider the ease of configuring workflows, cloud operability, integration with existing systems and mobile access.
  • Measure performance. Finally, keep monitoring and measuring to see if automation has helped your business improve based on earlier defined outcomes. Reports and data analytics can help you make informed decisions to identify what can be further optimized in the process.

Core features of workflow automation software

Workflow automation software enables business processes to be scheduled and executed according to user-defined rules. In that same vein, solutions equipped with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities would also streamline how information (contained in digital or paper documents) is captured, stored and shared between many stakeholders — minimizing manual data entry errors and accelerating the speed at which critical business decisions are made.

Organizations that use low-code development platforms (flexible solutions without the need for extensive custom coding) stand to build and deploy efficient workflow automation with minimal involvement from IT teams. Using a low-code business process management platform streamlines workflows with features like:

  • Configurable, visual-based and intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces that reduce the need for complex coding
  • Permission controls to assign user roles and regulate who can view or edit workflows 
  • Real-time notifications to specific users when steps are pending, or an item is up for review
  • A process mining tool that analyzes process bottlenecks and promotes workflow transparency
  • Audit trails that are the result of a detailed outline of tasks, steps and processes in a workflow to manage business compliancy